By Tim Leeds
What started as an attempt to repay a debt has turned into a source of happiness for Wanda Osterberg, who usually volunteers at the North Central Senior Citizens Center four or five days a week - or more.
"I've enjoyed it immensely. I come here eagerly," she said Wednesday. "I enjoy the people, the activities, the fellowship."
Wanda, 73, started volunteering because she felt she had a debt to pay to the senior center.
Wanda and LeRoy Osterberg moved to Havre in 1967 when he got a job teaching drafting technology and machine drawing at Northern Montana College.
After both of them had retired, LeRoy's health started to fail and Wanda found she needed some help. So volunteers from the senior center would come and care for him a couple of hours a day so she had some time to rest. Later, she hired help through the center to care for him from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. so she could sleep.
In 1997, about a year before LeRoy died, he transferred to a veterans care center, and Wanda decided to pay her debt to the care center.
"It was to return their kindness and to fill a void in my life, and it still does," she said.
"I call it the senior haven," she added. "Everybody's very sociable. We have a few laughs."
Next week is the 31st straight year for recognition of volunteers in the United States.
President Nixon started National Volunteer Week in 1974. Every president since then has followed his example, joined by governors, mayors and other elected officials.
The week includes organizations hosting awards ceremonies, volunteers participating in community service projects and national awards given to volunteers.
Wanda doesn't seem interested in recognition. She keeps busy at the center, both volunteering and participating in activities.
Tuesdays are the nutrition lunch day at the center, and more people come to volunteer those days. Often more than 100 people eat on Tuesday, she said.
She goes to the center about 9:30 a.m. most mornings, setting up the tables with other volunteers to prepare for lunch. Then she helps during the buffet lunches, from serving coffee to helping people carry food to their tables.
"I'm here till 1 p.m. at least," she said.
She also has fun at the center, including playing pool. The specified nights are doubles on Tuesday and singles on Thursday, but she often plays at other times. Also, bowling is on Monday afternoons. She also attends dances on second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, to the live music of the Hi-Line Cowboy Symphony Band.
Those nights, about 25 people attend, with some just listening to the music rather than dancing.
"The rest of us make up for it," Wanda said. "That's our wild night. We are here from 7 till 9."
She also volunteers for other things at the center, including calling at bingo occasionally and events like the monthly lunch meetings the Blue Horizon Good Sams Club has at the center on Saturdays during the winter.
"I volunteer at those with other ladies," she said.
She sometimes volunteers for other occasions in the area, but mostly works at the senior center.
"I don't like to stretch myself out too thin," Wanda said. "I pretty much zero in on this here."
Others volunteer all over town, she noted. People volunteer at the hospital, at the library, stuffing envelopes for mass mailings at Hill County Electric or the hospital, volunteering at schools or at the soup kitchen - it's amazing, Wanda said.
"They're in their 80s and they're still as active as can be," she said.
She said she highly recommends volunteering, especially for someone who needs to fill a void in his or her life, perhaps due to a death or a child leaving home.
"Let's face it, we all need to be needed. It gives a good feeling, gives a purpose in life," she said. "This senior center volunteering fills that for me."